Advanced Colon and Rectal Cancer Can Be Prevented

Sometimes men and women pay little attention to changes in their bowel habits or quickly dismiss abdominal cramping as a sign that they’re getting older.

However, Dr. Jay Goldstein, a University of Illinois at Chicago associate professor of medicine and a specialist in the UIC Medical Center’s Digestive Disease and Liver Center, says that paying attention to the early warning signs of colon or rectal cancer could mean the difference between simple treatment that might help provide a better quality of life and radical medical procedures to stop the disease from spreading to other parts of the body.

Goldstein is the medical co-director of a joint effort between the UIC Medical Center, Channel 5 News and Chicago-area Walgreens stores to provide free, at-home colorectal cancer screening test kits for the residents of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, LaPorte, McHenry and Porter counties, beginning July 20. The UIC Medical Center will process all of the test kits and notify program participants of the results.

"People with a family history of colon or rectal cancer, patients with polyps and anybody over the age of 50 should be especially concerned with recognizing the possible symptoms of cancer.," Goldstein says. "It is only through early detection that colon cancer can be cured."

Of course, most people will experience some kind of stomach pain or changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation, from time to time. But, if these conditions persist for more than a few days or are accompanied by rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, they could be signs of cancer or other gastrointestinal disorders such as hemorrhoids, fissures, or diverticula disease.

Colorectal cancer affects men and women equally and has a mortality rate second only to lung cancer. However, if this disease is detected early enough, 85 percent of those diagnosed can be successfully treated. One method for detecting early colon cancer is testing stool samples for the presence of small amounts of blood using the Hemoccult II test kit, which will be distributed during the upcoming colorectal cancer screening program. While a positive test result indicates the presence of occult (hidden) blood in the stool and not necessarily the presence of cancer, this test is still considered an effective measure for early detection of colon or rectal cancer.

Goldstein suggests that men and women, who are at least 50 years-old, follow the guidelines for an early detection program set by the American Cancer Society. ACS guidelines recommend annual tests for occult (hidden) blood in the stool, plus a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years. The guidelines give men and women over 50 the option of having a colonoscopy every ten years or a double contrast barium enema every five to ten years.

Most people will not test positive for cancer, Goldstein says. However, early detection is the best defense against colon or rectal cancer.

Last modified: 07/31/97

Send comments or questions to: CR Mailbox